WORLD CUP REVIEW: Magic Luka Modric, Paul Pogba perfection and a blundering Brazilian

Brazil's Neymar, Croatia's Luka Modric and France's Benjamin Pavard. (AFP)
Updated 17 July 2018
0

WORLD CUP REVIEW: Magic Luka Modric, Paul Pogba perfection and a blundering Brazilian

  • Our goals, players, and team of the tournament

France’s 4-2 victory over Croatia on Sunday was the best World Cup final since 1982 and closed out what was a brilliant, drama-packed tournament. Here we look back at the past four and half weeks in Russia to give you our highlights of a memorable month.

MATCH OF THE TOURNAMENT — Belgium 3-2 Japan

In a tournament packed with tense, closely fought matches this was easily the most dramatic. With 21 minutes to go Belgium’s “Golden Generation” were 2-0 down and staring at a shock second-round exit at the hands of Japan. But they proved that alongside the flair and finesse, they also had backbone as strikes from Jan Vertonghen and Marouane Fellaini levelled the score before 90 minutes. That then set up a memorable finale as the Red Devils brilliantly counterattacked in added time with Romulu Lukaku dummying for Nacer Chadli to fire home the late winner. Subs bench: France 4-3 Argentina, Spain 3-3 Portugal, Spain 2-2 Morocco.

PLAYER OF THE TOURNAMENT — Luka Modric

There was a moment in Croatia’s 2-1 extra-time win against England where the midfield maestro’s legs had clearly gone and he was running on pure adrenaline. Yet, even after 105 minutes Modric still went in search of the ball, still looked to create the all-important winner, he never gave up and never looked anything other than pure class. That summed up the entire tournament for the Real Madrid man, and although he ended up on the losing side in the final he was easily the most impressive player in Russia. Subs bench: Kylian Mbappe, Raphael Varane, Eden Hazard.

GOAL OF THE TOURNAMENT — Benjamin Pavard - vs. Argentina, second round 

There are certain ingredients you need to win goal of the tournament. A touch of brilliant technique, a dollop of great team play, a slice of “did you just see that” reaction, and for it to come at an important time in the match. Pavard’s volley from 30 yards had all four of those in abundance: 2-1 down to Argentina in the second-round clash, Les Bleus were in need of a bit of magic and while Mbappe rightly took many of the plaudits for his two goals, it was Pavard’s strike that galvanized the French and set them on their way to World Cup glory. Subs bench: Nacho (Spain vs. Portugal), Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal vs. Spain), Nacer Chaldli (Belgium vs. Japan), Toni Kroos (Germany vs. Sweden).

SHOCK OF THE TOURNAMENT — Germany’s early exit

If anyone tells you they thought the defending champions would not get out of the group, there is a very high chance that they are lying. They were ranked No.1 and, while they came into the tournament with a few issues (Leroy Sane dropped, Mezut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan’s photo op with Turkish president Recep Erdogan), no one thought they would depart as early as they did. They were outclassed by Mexico, needed a last-minute winner against Sweden and looked clueless during their 2-0 defeat to South Korea — it was as embarrassing as it was surprising.

LOSER OF THE TOURNAMENT — Neymar

Where do we start? We could go with the pathetic diving and play acting which would have shamed a four-year-old, the fact he rarely hit the heights that would befit the most expensive player in the history of the game, or we could go with his ridiculous haircut. But what most embarrassed him was his naked narcissism. The fact is that Philippe Coutinho was Brazil’s best player in Russia, but Neymar insisted on taking all the free kicks and being the center of attention. The sooner he realizes that football is a team game and that there are players as good, if not better, than him then the sooner Brazil may win the World Cup again. As long as they pander to Neymar’s inflated opinion of himself they have little chance.

TEAM OF THE TOURNAMENT. (3-5-2)

Goalkeeper — Jordan Pickford (England): Was the star of England’s unexpected march to the semifinals.

Defense — Raphael Varane (France): The best player in the best defense of the whole tournament, sheer class. Harry Maguire (England): Made a name for himself in Russia, will be around for many years to come. Diego Godin (Uruguay): As dominant and solid a defender as you are likely to find.

Midfield — Thomas Meunier (Belgium): In a side packed full of attacking talent Meunier proved one of the most dangerous attackers from deep. Ivan Perisic (Croatia): Brilliant on the ball and always a threat, Perisic was one of the key men behind Croatia’s run to the final. Luka Modric (Croatia): The best player on the ball in Russia was also the best player in the tournament. Paul Pogba (France): How Manchester United fans will wish he could reproduce his mature and dominating performances in Russia for them. Eden Hazard (Belgium): The best dribbler in Russia was always a constant menace for opposition defenses.

Forwards — Kylian Mbappe (France): It is frightening to think just how good he can become. Romelu Lukaku (Belgium): All his goals came from open play and was one of the key reasons behind Belgium’s good tournament.

Subs bench: Thibaut Courtois (Belgium), Yerry Mina (Colombia), Kieran Trippier (England), N’Golo Kante (France), Denis Cheryshev (Russia), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Edinson Cavani (Uruguay).


Esperance Sportive de Tunis told to forget Real Madrid and focus on Al-Ain in FIFA Club World Cup

Updated 12 December 2018
0

Esperance Sportive de Tunis told to forget Real Madrid and focus on Al-Ain in FIFA Club World Cup

  • Tunisian giants face Al-Ain in their quarterfinal
  • In Japan, Esperance were beaten by Asian champions Al-Sadd, a defeat that saw them miss out on the chance of playing Barcelona

ABU DHABI: Esperance Sportive de Tunis have been told they have to learn from their mistakes of 2011 or forget about a dream date with Real Madrid. 

The Tunisian giants face Al-Ain in their quarterfinal with their skipper Khalil Chemmam reminding them not to fall foul of overconfidence as they did when they last played in the FIFA Club World Cup seven years ago. In Japan, Esperance were beaten by Asian champions Al-Sadd, a defeat that saw them miss out on the chance of playing Barcelona in the semifinals.

With a last-four clash against Real Madrid on offer to the winners of Saturday’s match, Chemmam is only too aware of the possibility of history repeating itself. 

“We should concentrate on our quarterfinal first, take each game as it comes, and try not to make the same mistakes we made in 2011,” the Tunisia international said. 

“We have to focus on our initial opponents and do our research beforehand. We must give our all out on the pitch so that we don’t have any regrets this time.”

He added: “Appearing at the Club World Cup might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for some players, so we should be careful not to repeat the mistakes of the past, when we played well but lost. That’s why we have to stay focused and do our best to advance as far as we can in the competition.”

That Esperance are even in the position to take on the most successful club sides in the world has come as a bit of a shock to the defender. Egyptian aces Al-Ahly were strongly fancied to beat them over the two legs of the CAF Champions League final. They lost 3-1 in Alexandria but fashioned a brilliant comeback in the second leg, winning 3-0 to claim the title 4-3 on aggregate. 

But now that they have made it to the UAE they do, Chemmam admitted, have one eye on a clash with Real Madrid. 

“We didn’t really envisage winning the Champions League this season, but we wanted to go as far as possible,” Chemmam said. 

“There wasn’t much pressure on us, and we managed to go on a run and claim the title. And so we’ll try to do the same in the Club World Cup. 

“We won’t set an objective, but everyone’s been dreaming of making it to the final and playing Real Madrid, the European champions.

“I’m so fortunate to be an Esperance player. They’re a big name, not just in Tunisia, but throughout Africa. If I didn’t play here, I might not have had the chance to participate in the Club World Cup in 2011, and now again in 2018. That said, I’ll need to handle the large amount of responsibility placed on my shoulders, and hopefully we’ll record better results at this tournament compared to last time around in Japan.”

If Chemmam and his Esperance side can cause a shock or two over the coming few days, it perhaps would not be too much of a surprise. It is the team’s centenary year and as seen with the CAF Champions League win, luck does seem to be on their side. 

“Winning the Champions League this year was special because it came in the club’s centenary year and against a big team, Al Ahly,” Chemmam said. “Out of all the trophies we’ve won, this one is unique because we not only beat them, but we also played better than them. It was a happy day for Tunisia and for Esperance’s supporters, of course. It was an exceptional tournament for us.”

Of their last-four opponents he added: “It’ll be a tough match.

“Without a doubt … Al-Ain will have a lot of supporters in the stands, and that will give them a boost. However, our fans will be there for us too. They follow us wherever we go, and we expect that to continue at the Club World Cup.”